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Of Falcons and Mûmakil

Chapter 15: A day off

by Lialathuveril

Chapter XIV: A day off

Breakfast the next day was an awkward affair with three of the participants doing their best to act as if nothing had happened while Faramir watched with hidden amusement. The only one seemingly oblivious to the undercurrents running through the room was Melian who picked at her porridge with very little appetite, causing her sister-in-law to momentarily forget about her own concerns.

“How are you feeling?” Lothiriel asked anxiously, “You are looking a bit pale.”

Melian gave a little shrug. “It’s the heat,” she explained, “I found it difficult to sleep, it was so hot in my room last night.”

Indeed the heat wave showed no sign of abating and there had been no rain since before they had arrived in Emyn Arnen. Today was no exception with the sun shining in a cloudless sky and temperatures mounting already.

“Why don’t you find a shady bench in the gardens and have a lie-down?” Lothiriel suggested solicitously and Melian agreed with a tired smile.

“Maybe we should all take a holiday today,” Éowyn proposed ingenuously, “we could go for a ride along the river and have a picnic.”

Her brother gave her a frigid glance. Apparently she was not forgiven yet. “I’m afraid I am too busy training my men, but you and Lothiriel may go ahead.”

Éowyn noted that at his words the Princess of Dol Amroth looked distinctly relieved. It is downright disheartening, she thought, after all the effort I’ve gone to over the party. The only progress she could make out was the fact that they seemed to be on a first name basis now, but all their usual light-hearted banter was absent today.

The atmosphere didn’t lighten until the two men left for their morning sparring match – that had become a tradition - leaving the women to their own devices. Éowyn, who had been up since dawn overseeing the removal of the tables and benches and the general tidying-up, decided to take a break from matchmaking for the rest of the day. The servants, too, deserved a day off after all the hard work they had gone to.

“Let’s just collect some of the leftovers from yesterday and find a cool spot in the forest to enjoy them,” she suggested and Lothiriel agreed readily. Éowyn had the lowering suspicion that she would have agreed to just about any plan in order not to have to face Éomer in the afternoon.

The kitchen was pretty much deserted when they filled a couple of saddlebags with cold pork pastries, a wedge of cheese and some freshly baked bread. While Éowyn filled a leather flask with wine Lothiriel noted with regret that the berry tarts had all been eaten, but she managed to find some small cakes, and on the way out she raided a bowl of apples.

At first she felt awkward and embarrassed to be back in the stables, but Éowyn tactfully refrained from making any comments and soon the soothing routine of looking after Nightwind and getting her mare ready to ride out settled her nerves. When saddling up she suddenly noticed that she still used the Rohirric saddlecloth with its white horse on a green field. She had grown quite used to it, she mused and smoothed it out carefully.

Melian having declined an invitation to join them, it was just the two of them who rode out the main gates soon after and took the switchback road down to the valley floor.

“Are we going anywhere in particular?” Lothiriel asked curiously when Éowyn left the main road to cross the stream at a shallow ford.

“We are, but it’s a surprise.”

Lothiriel was quite content to just enjoy the cool shade underneath the ancient trees as they followed a narrow path along one of the many nameless tributaries to the main stream, leading them further up the side of the valley. The banks of the stream were lined with willows and thickly overgrown with ferns. The path started to climb now and soon they decided to stop for a short rest. They had drawn level with the main house again by now and were facing it across the wide valley. It wasn’t very far away as the crow flies and they could see the sun twinkling on the helmets and spears of the guards, even though they had covered a considerable distance.

The path levelled out soon after and they entered a small side valley where the trees drew in even closer. Lothiriel could hear the song of many different birds although they were all but invisible in the dense canopy of oak and beech trees, and once she saw a family of grey squirrels racing up a thick tree trunk, disturbed by their passage.

She was starting to wonder if Éowyn had lost her way when suddenly the path widened again and the trees stopped as if cut by a knife and gave way to a large clearing. Lothiriel caught her breath when she saw the forest pool lying in its centre with its surface sparkling in the bright sunshine. A herd of deer had been grazing at the far end and now they took off and vanished into the forest, causing Lothiriel to sigh in regret.

“It’s absolutely beautiful!” she breathed.

Éowyn nodded in satisfaction at her reaction. “It is, isn’t it? It’s so hidden away, hardly anybody knows about this place. Faramir calls this the ‘bottomless pool’ because it’s so deep. There are underground springs emptying into it, so even at the height of summer the water is plentiful and quite cold.”

They unsaddled the horses and turned them loose to graze while they settled down near the waterside. When Éowyn saw Lothiriel look wistfully at the water she laughed.

“Well, go ahead then!”

“Go ahead with what?” Lothiriel asked, startled.

“I can see you are longing to go for a swim. What is more I think I’ll join you.”

Lothiriel hesitated. “What if we’re disturbed?”

“Nobody ever comes here,“ Éowyn asserted, “and even if they did, the horses would give us warning.”

“That’s true, “ Lothiriel agreed, brightening up. Without another word the two women took off their clothes, leaving them in an untidy heap on the grass, and raced into the water.

***


Éomer shifted his grip on his sword, silently cursing the sweat that was running down his arm and making it slippery. Wearing heavy armour in the blazing July sunshine was a bit like being baked slowly but thoroughly. Still, he welcomed the discomfort as it kept his thoughts on the here and now instead of wandering off into memories of last night. He could not shake the vision of the Princess of Dol Amroth looking at him with that peculiar mixture of apprehension and eagerness in her green eyes.

Wake up and concentrate! He told himself sternly as he barely evaded a savage slash at his left side, only just catching it on his shield. The impact jarred his shoulder painfully and he had to take a step back, ceding precious ground to his opponent. Then the world narrowed to what he could see through the twin slits of his helmet and his body’s reflexes took over. He welcomed the familiar sensation. Thrust and parry, watch your foe’s eyes for the next move and try to anticipate it.

He was used to fighting men smaller and weaker than himself, but this warrior was his equal in strength. Cool grey eyes stared back at him and then widened as he aimed a lightning strike at the winged helmet. An unorthodox move, but certainly effective as it forced the other man to duck and step back.

They circled each other warily, neither one quite ready to commit himself to an all-out attack yet. Then Éomer suddenly feinted to the left and when his opponent parried this, followed it up with a vicious thrust to the right. He was parried again, but only barely and for a moment they found themselves shield to shield straining against each other, before they both jumped back a step and started to circle again.

Éomer felt the familiar elation of measuring his skill at arms against someone else rise within him and grinned menacingly at his adversary. He let his shield drop a little as if his shoulder was still hurting him and sure enough the other man was led to assay a thrust at his upper body. Éomer had been waiting for just that and smoothly moved to the side and over, letting his opponent’s impetus carry him into the reach of his sword. He was fast, though, and recovered quickly before Éomer could do any damage. Even so he was caught off balance and had to hastily take a couple of steps back. Éomer took the opportunity to deliver a backhand blow to the head, which his opponent only just managed to avoid, causing him to curse violently. The grey eyes were blazing with anger now and for a while the two men were fighting in earnest, their blades clanging against each other.

Then suddenly they both lowered their blades and took a step back.

Faramir took off his helmet and wiped the sweat from his brow. “Maybe we should stop before we do any real damage.”

Éomer actually felt better than he had all day. He was even almost ready to forgive his sister for interfering. Fleetingly the thought crossed his mind whether he was angry with her for trying to meddle in his life or for coming into the stables just when she had. He dismissed that firmly, however, and nodded at Faramir reluctantly.

“A shame, I was just starting to enjoy myself.”

“You won’t tomorrow, when the bruises start to show,” Faramir grinned and clapped him on the shoulder. He hesitated for a moment and then asked diffidently, “Do you want to talk about it?”

Éomer had come to like his brother-in-law so he contented himself to simply answering “No.” His tone, however, brooked no argument and Faramir just shrugged good-naturedly.

“Let’s go back to the house and have some lunch then,” he suggested.

When they got to the house they were welcomed with the news that the Ladies Éowyn and Lothiriel had taken themselves off for an outing. Éomer thought nothing of it until he saw Faramir talking to one of his rangers, a worried expression on his face.

“What is it?” he demanded as he joined them.

“This is Damrod, the captain of my rangers,” Faramir said, introducing the other man who gave the King of Rohan a polite bow, “he just reported that one of his men has found traces of a large band of armed men to the south of Emyn Arnen.”

“We found the site of a cold camp, but the outward trail is already a couple of days old,” the ranger explained. He was a tall man with the black hair and grey eyes of his race and Éomer remembered him from the march on the Black Gate.

“They could be anywhere by now,” Faramir remarked and they looked at each other, the first stirrings of unease apparent in their eyes.

***


Lothiriel gave a deep sigh of contentment. She was floating on her back with her eyes closed, simply enjoying the sensation of the cool water caressing her skin. It was as if all the tension of the last day was draining out of her and was being washed away by the gentle waves.

“How do you do that?” Éowyn asked, sounding distinctly frustrated as she was spluttering in the water beside her.

“Do what?” Lothiriel asked with surprise and opened her eyes to look over.

“Float in the water like that! I just keep going under. Have you always been able to swim like an otter?”

The Princess of Dol Amroth grinned. It was an unusual feeling to be better at something than the redoubtable slayer of the Witch King of Angmar. “You just have to believe firmly that you will stay afloat, “ she explained, “then you won’t sink. It’s all a matter of willpower. As for the other, we go swimming in Dol Amroth every day in the summer, so I’ve had lots of practice.”

“I wish I could swim like that,” Éowyn said enviously, “I was able to ride before I could talk, yet I never learnt to swim. Faramir has started to teach me.”

Lothiriel could have sworn she saw the other woman blush slightly and wondered what else her cousin had taught his beautiful wife. “Well, come on then,” she said and Éowyn took a few cautious steps towards her.

The pool was in fact quite treacherous, being shallow to begin with and then suddenly dropping off sharply further in. When they had first gone in, she had slipped and had gone right under, causing Éowyn considerable alarm. Fortunately she was as good a swimmer as she had claimed and had just surfaced again laughing. Later on Lothiriel had tried to dive down to the bottom, but hadn’t been able to reach it, the pool was so deep.

Éowyn lowered herself into the water and took a few cautious swimming strokes, being careful to stay well within her depth. The water was quite cold, though, and after a while, when they both started to shiver, they got out and got dressed again.

Now they were grateful for the hot sunshine and sat down in the grass to dry their hair. Éowyn had brought a large blanket to sit on and began to spread out their food on it. They were both of them hungry and without another word they gave their picnic short shrift.

“This is just like home,” Lothiriel said after a while, her mouth full of delicious pork pastry, “we always take something to eat with us when I go sailing with my brothers.”

Éowyn smiled at her enthusiasm. The princess had told her all about her beloved boat. “Is that how you manage to go swimming every day?” she enquired.

“Mostly,” Lothiriel nodded, “but sometimes the ladies of the court go together.”

Éowyn took a swig of wine and passed the wineskin to Lothiriel. “Don’t you get men spying on you?” she asked with a wicked grin.

Lothiriel laughed. “There is a small private beach at the foot of the castle for our use and we take a couple of Swan Knights to guard the access.”

“Don’t they peek?” Éowyn asked incredulously.

“They are Swan Knights!” Lothiriel replied with a wink, “my brothers maintain it’s a good test of their dedication to duty.”

Éowyn laughed out loud at the picture presented. “I bet it is,” she chuckled, “I feel sorry for them! I don’t think that would work in the Riddermark.”
She suddenly thought of what Faramir had said to her the night before. “Tell me,” she asked impulsively, “have you ever considered leaving Dol Amroth?”

Lothiriel showed a sudden marked interest in cutting off a thin slice of cheese and arranging it to her liking on a piece of bread. “What makes you ask so?” she replied finally, her expression guarded.

Éowyn hesitated. She could hardly tell her friend what she had discussed with Faramir. Maybe her husband was right when he accused her of sometimes being to forthright in her speech. Then inspiration struck her. “I was just thinking of what you told me the other day,” she explained ingenuously, “about having to choose a husband on your twenty-first birthday.”

“Oh that!” Lothiriel almost sounded a bit disappointed. “You are right of course, I will have to leave Dol Amroth eventually.” She was absentmindedly shredding her piece of bread. “Staying here with you, I’d almost forgotten about that. It’s so nice not having to act like a princess all the time.”

She gave a deep sigh. “At home everybody is always trying to make me behave according to their ideas. Sometimes I think you and your brother are the only people willing to let me be and not meddle in my life.”

It was a good thing she was so intent on her piece of bread or she would surely have noticed the look of sudden guilt crossing her companion’s face. Éowyn hurriedly busied herself tidying up the remains of their meal. “Speaking of Éomer,” she said nonchalantly, “what made you pour a bucket of water over him last night?” She had been wondering all morning how to manoeuvre the conversation onto that.

Lothiriel didn’t look very happy at her question, but was too polite to refuse to answer. “It was an accident, “ she explained hesitantly. “Lord Dorlas followed me to the stables and then tried to kiss me. Your brother very kindly came to my rescue, but he got so angry he started to strangle Dorlas. I couldn’t think of anything else to make him stop.”

“So you poured a bucket of water over him?” This was not the explanation Éowyn had expected, but it was very interesting nevertheless. Maybe all hope wasn’t lost yet…

“What else was I supposed to do? I didn’t want Éomer to kill him.”

“Why not? Dorlas certainly deserved it.” Éowyn didn’t sound as if finding his body in her stables would have particularly bothered her.

Lothiriel looked at her a bit helplessly. With their good-natured banter Éomer and his sister lulled you into thinking they were harmless, when really there was a streak of ruthless ferocity lurking just beneath the surface. Somehow this rather added to their appeal.

Lothiriel finally settled on “It would have made a mess” as an explanation. Éowyn seemed to find this quite reasonable.

“We don’t have to hurry back yet,” she said, changing the subject, “we could always have another swim a little later on.”

Lothiriel nodded wordlessly and the two women lay down on the soft grass for a moment, simply enjoying the warm sunshine and listening to the birdsong. From somewhere within the forest the staccato sounds of a woodpecker could be heard.

Between them they had emptied the wineskin and neither of them had slept very long or very well the night before, so it was really not at all surprising that they should both fall asleep. In this way it came to pass that they did not notice the birds suddenly falling silent and the woodpecker flying away scolding. Not even the fact of their horses growing increasingly restless penetrated their deep slumber.



***


If you want to find out how Faramir tried to teach Éowyn to swim for the first time, check out 'Sun on the Water' by cuthalion.

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A day off
Created
04 Dec 2005
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04 Dec 2005
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